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Thread: Craftsman Style Desk Chair Build - Part 1

  1. #1
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    Craftsman Style Desk Chair Build - Part 1

    This is a build thread for a Walnut, craftsman style desk chair. This is my first attempt at building a chair and there were definitely quite a few hiccups along the way.

    Once I had a rough sense of the dimensions and configuration of the chair, next step was to create templates for the curved back slats. I started with the two, larger outside back slats and then worked towards the center. I definitely need a better spoke shave because shaping curved chair slats is a task ideally suited for a sharp shave, and my 1970s Record model really wasn’t up to the task.











    This is a template for the curved bottom chair rail that would be mortised to accept the back slats.



    For added strength I left the cross-section of the back slats over long and wider than the chair rail so an external tendon could extend below the top of the chair rail.







    Because the chair back is wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, I SWAGed some angles for crosscutting chair back top and bottom rails that I hoped would establish the desired trapezoidal (?) Shape. Of course my angles were off so I dry assembled and then used a straight edge to redraw/recut tennon shoulders parallel to the vertical chair back. This “dry assembly and then adjust” was an essential part of this entire build.






  2. #2
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    This is one of about a billion dry assembly to fiddle with getting the internal dimensions of the chair back slats correct at the top and bottom rails. The Greene & Greene “Cloud Lift” design element was carried through most of the horizontal pieces which mean't all the vertical splats were different lengths- nice job Einstein of creating complexity out of what should be simple- my bad!








    Used some molding planes to establish the cross-sectional curved across the thickness of the central backs plat.







    Here is sawing the angled tenons for the horizontal chair rails. Nothing square in this design – I guess that’s chair makers curse, which led to more fiddling with tennon shoulders.













    With main components of the chair dry assembled, I look through some books to get an idea for armrests shapes. Not sure how I settled on this.







    Last edited by Mike Allen1010; 05-10-2021 at 4:54 PM.

  3. #3
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    More shaping of edge profiles etc.



    Armrests are joined to front posts via through, wedged M & T’s. I mocked up the assembly and laid out the mortise by tracing around the existing tennon. I guess there’s some “Mathy” way I could’ve laid out both sides of the mortises but that’s definitely over my head, so stuck with my trace tennon, cut mortise technique.













    Finally starting to look like a chair.


  4. #4
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    I use Robert Lang’s excellent book of Stickley inlay designs to layout some marquetry for the back central back splat. My understanding from the book is that the original Stickley process was to do traditional marquetry with a large background veneer sheet that would be glued to the chair. To try and maintain some sense of grain matching, I tried to do a sort of “parquetry” inlay into the solid back splat which was about as much of a headache as it sounds like. Creating the inlay pieces out of solid 1/8 inch thick material and then tracing them onto the back slats with an X-Acto knife. Not recommended – Stickley obviously knew what he was doing.






    Here’s some pictures of the Holly line inlay and using the Lee Valley inlay tool and a plexiglass protector to prevent leaving unwanted pivot point marks.








    Commercial veneer softener super helpful in bending the string inlay around a dowel to avoid breakage when inserting.













    With the inlay complete, some final shaping before assembly. Card scraper was super helpful for this task.






  5. #5
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    Red face

    Use the Lee Valley inlay tool prior to assembly to create mortises for ebony plugs. If you like this look, this tool is indispensable.



    I buffed the belt plugs with the wheel on the drill press to get a high-gloss surface.



    To add some curves, visual heft where the armrests join the posts, I inlaid some cocobolo circles I thought help connect the two elements visually (which sounds super pretentious even as I say it).












    Next part will be base of the chair with epic mistake repair effort.

    Thanks for looking. Please let me know if too many pics. Personally I always enjoy Hand tool photo so may tend to go over board. I appreciate the feedback.

    Best, Mike
    Last edited by Mike Allen1010; 05-10-2021 at 4:43 PM.

  6. #6
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    Nice work Mike - and the pics are great. keep 'em comin. One of these days I have to try inlay work - you make it look so easy, and then the finish work you produce looks really cool with it. And you're right - that little Lee Valley plug tool is a wonderful tool for the task. I look forward to the rest of the build.
    You know, the worst ain't so bad when it finally happens.
    Not half as bad as you figure it'll be before it's happened.
    - Bob Curtin

  7. #7
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    I've got a bit of time so figured I finish rest of build.

    For the central post supporting attaching the chair to the legs, I re-used a metal hydraulic cylinder for my previous desk chair, but would allow me to raise and lower the chair, glued inside a five sided column glued up from 4/4 material, resulting in one of the most comically over clamped glue ups in history!













    There are five horizontal legs that attach to the five sided column via sliding dovetails. I usually have pretty good luck cutting this joint by hand, and my ECE dovetail plane is indispensable for this work. In the interest of efficiency I plowed the female portion of the dovetail with an electric router. Unfortunately I made the dovetail too short, only about 3/8 of an inch deep which resulted in catastrophic failure later – ugh!














    Here’s the glue up for the 5 feet with another template. At this point my Walnut inventory was running on empty so I ended up laminating some of the legs from 5/4 stock. I use a variety of carving tools and rasps to shape a rough ball on the end of the feet and then carved vertical spirals surrounding central cocobolo inlay on the sides.








  8. #8
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    With everything finally glued up my first test sit resulted in the sickening sound of two legs snapping off from the central column – I hate when that happens!




    I had to re-cut the sliding DT joints, this time a full three quarters of an inch deep. I also added screws, covered by ebony plugs, through the five sides the column into a central solid wood piece and finally added a solid pine “” screwed from the bottom of the chair into the end grain of the five central column sides.






    Last step was upholstering the slip seat cushion. This was another first for me. It turned out only OK. If anyone ever looks at the bottom of the seat cushion it will be blatantly obvious this was done by a rank amateur who must’ve been using a hatchet!






    Here’s some pictures of the finished chair. I’m pretty pleased with the aesthetics but I have to confess it’s not especially comfortable. Probably going to be a while before I attempt another chair – maybe some small folding chairs for the beach?



















    Thanks for looking, Mike

  9. #9
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  10. #10
    Mike,

    I love it but, damn man have you ever heard of starting out with something like a simple "stick chair" and then working your way up . BTW, be careful making chairs is almost as much fun as building workbenches.

    ken

    Just wanted to add, a good bevel up wood stock shave like those made by Dave's Shaves ( http://www.ncworkshops.com/ ) really work well for chair making.
    Last edited by ken hatch; 05-10-2021 at 5:57 PM.

  11. #11
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    Nice Mike. Like Ken said, go big or go home, huh? And I've had those situations where you think "Just one more clamp...." until you run out of clamps. Hope it's as comfy to sit in as it is nice to look at.
    You know, the worst ain't so bad when it finally happens.
    Not half as bad as you figure it'll be before it's happened.
    - Bob Curtin

  12. #12
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    Wonderful! Will now spend much time studying.

  13. #13
    That was epic -- thanks for posting!

  14. #14
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    Great work, Mike. Nothing like a simple inlay pattern to get your juices flowing. A soldering iron or (heaven forbid), your wife’s curling iron and a few spritzes of water will bend stringing nicely as well. I finally sprung for a bending iron, but certainly not necessary.

    The 1/8” thick inlay piece is certainly less stress when it comes to leveling with the surrounding surface...hate when I sand through something that took hours to make!

    I might add that I often build as I go. Just seems easier to line up parts without lots of pre-measurements and fingers crossed that it all fits. Great build...thanks for posting.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by ken hatch View Post
    Mike,

    I love it but, damn man have you ever heard of starting out with something like a simple "stick chair" and then working your way up . BTW, be careful making chairs is almost as much fun as building workbenches.

    ken

    Just wanted to add, a good bevel up wood stock shave like those made by Dave's Shaves ( http://www.ncworkshops.com/ ) really work well for chair making.
    Thanks for the suggestion Ken. Starting with a simpler stick type chair would’ve been a much better way to go. Not sure I love trying to figure out all the irregular angle joinery with chairs. Hopefully I’ll get better with time.

    Also appreciate the suggestion about Dave spokeshaves. I will definitely check it out.

    Are you going to be around for summer in the desert are you on the road?

    Best, Mike

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